Surge in COVID cases cancels Christmas services in U.S. churches large and small

Many such services were also cancelled last Christmas as a result of pandemic
Washington National Cathedral

Churches across the U.S. have cancelled their traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services amid the surge of coronavirus cases, disappointing churchgoers for the second straight year.

The Washington National Cathedral, in Washington, D.C., cancelled its popular in-person Lessons and Carols service Thursday night and all Christmas services.

"Unfortunately, as the omicron variant takes hold across the world, our city seems to be leading the nation in infections," the Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, the cathedral's dean, said in an open letter Thursday. "As a result, we have made the sad but necessary decision to shift all Christmas services online and close the building to worshippers and visitors."

Other prominent churches canceling some or all of their in-person Christmas services include St. John the Divine, the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York; and the historic Old South Church in Boston, according to The Associated Press.

The Rev. Nancy Taylor, senior minister of Old South, said the church – affiliated with the United Church of Christ – still hoped to hold in-person Christmas Day services on Saturday but was moving its popular Christmas Eve service to online.

She explained that Christmas Eve congregation tends to be larger with a lot of visitors, some of whom have come from parties, and many of whom are not used to Boston's mask mandate.

Christmas services at the Washington National Cathedral traditionally bring over 15,000 people. All services at the church will be live-streamed only through at least Jan. 9.

Another major Washington church – National City Christian Church – also cancelled its Christmas Eve service and will shift exclusively to online worship at least through Jan. 16, the wire service reported.

Leaders of National City — the national church of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — said their decision was one they "desperately did not want to make" but felt they must. They also pointed out Washington Mayor Murial Bowser had declared a state of emergency in the District of Columbia.

In New York City, which is also reporting a record numbers COVID-19 cases, largely the result of the emergence of the virus' highly contagious omicron variant, leaders at St. John Divine said they were moving all service online.

Many such services were also cancelled last Christmas as a result of the pandemic.

Among other churches cancelling in-person Christmas services were the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Springfield, Ill., and the First Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, home to a large, predominantly African American congregation, according to the Associated Press